Your Gray Suit’s New Brown Shoes

Break away from the everyday and pair your slick gray suit (you took our advice, didn’t you?) with a classic pair of brown shoes for a traditional look that stands out in today’s black shoe kind of world.

I’m just going to come out and say it: you should own a gray suit. I will even go as far as if you’re only going to own one suit, it should be gray.

Especially if you’re a guy who is lucky enough to have multiple suits, then you should definitely have a gray suit.

A gray suit is your most versatile suit in your dress clothes armory.  There are no occasions I can think of where it would be inappropriate for a normal guy to wear a gray suit instead of say, a black suit, except a funeral.  Job interviews, weddings, client meetings, fancy dates, if you don’t have to wear a tuxedo, then you’ll be set with a gray suit.

But why a gray suit? What makes it so much better?

A black suit is the equivalent to the blue dress shirt, it’s the first dress shirt every 17 year old kid gets.  The reason they get a blue dress shirt first is because it’s good of course, it looks good on everyone and it’s not plain like a white dress shirt can be. That’s the same reason many guys start out with the black suit. It looks good on everyone.

It’s safe. It’s modest. You can’t go wrong with a black suit. And that’s true!

But is that what you want out of your personal style? To wear something that every guy wears because it’s safe?

This isn’t to suggest a gray suit is flashy by any means, it’s arguably just as conservative — BUT — every guy you know isn’t wearing one already. If you’re reading Primer, that means you are the fringe of our age group. You’re a smart guy who cares about becoming the best you can in all aspects of life. You care about self-improvement, getting fit and staying in shape, maintaining a long-term relationship, spending money wisely while not missing out, excelling in your passions, and moving up in your career. Think about five normal guys that are in your life right now. If you can say the same thing about all five, that’s incredible.

It’s tough to say but most guys our age just don’t put the same thought into some parts of life as you and I. I’m not suggesting they’re any less of a man or anything like that. We just think more forwardly than most.

Imagine going to a wedding.You’re standing around the bar at the reception with a few of your old friends. What are they wearing?

Black suit, black suit, charcoal suit, black suit, navy pinstripe if you’re lucky. But you, my good man, you stand out in your gray suit. Not in a flashy way. In a “wow, he looks good” way.

Most guys consider gray to be “light black.” Because of this they opt for black shoes. It’s a good look, but a little standard issue.

A gray suit is way more versatile than that. You can wear black shoes, and it looks good. You can also wear a ton of different shades of brown shoes that you can use appropriately depending on where you’re going and look even better.

Don’t think brown dress shoes aren’t versatile either — they look just as great with a navy suit if you happen to have one.

If you’ve got a nice suit, pair it with some nice shoes.

Something I’ve always thought was funny is how guys will spend a few hundred dollars on a suit, get it tailored, and then wear $35 dress shoes that they picked up on sale. You’ll hear style guys say the devil is in the details, but this is a big one.

Even just looking at these pictures, you can tell these shoes are nice. Not flashy — in fact pretty classic and conservative — but the details of quality all represent themselves.

There are few material things a man should invest good money into. A solid watch, firearm, tools, and traditional, non-fad shoes can all last a lifetime and represent more than some of the other ‘of-the-moments’ that we consume and discard.

Allen Edmonds shoes are definitely one of those things. I’m a big fan of quality goods made right here in America. Most things aren’t anymore, but what I’ve found is the goods that still are usually have a higher level of care and craftsmanship.

Made in America since 1922 and based in Port Washington, almost all of the shoes by Allen Edmonds are made in Maine and Wisconsin, with a few pairs made in Italy. Allen Edmonds originally provided shoes to soldiers during World War II, and upon returning home these heroic gentlemen continued to be lifelong customers.

Even as little as a year ago, I would have seen a $300 price tag on a pair of shoes and scoff at how unnecessary they are. After all, I could get six pairs of $50 shoes for the same amount of one pair of Strands.

That’s certainly true. But these aren’t more expensive because you’re paying for a brand name like other areas of clothing and fashion, or because they’re made out of some unnecessarily rare animal skin — these shoes are the works of craftsman, with materials meant to last.

It’s understandable if you don’t have a lot of disposable income at the moment, none of us do the first few years out of college. What you need to see is, as an investment, these can literally last you a lifetime.

Most men grow out of the $14-replace-it-when-the-face-falls-off watch, and eventually invest in something greater. I still have my first $100 watch, and I bought it 10 years ago. I’ve replaced the battery a few times, had it cleaned and it still works great.

This is no different; every guy should have a good pair of dress shoes, ones not intended to last two years, but for many to come.  There are stories circulating style forums that a pair of Allen Edmonds can last 30 years, plus.

That’s not to say they’re going to look just as new when you’re 60 as they did fresh out of the box, but taking advantage of their Recrafting service can make them practically new again. For the price of your typical wear-em and toss-em shoes, your Strands can be rebuilt with new soles, leather, cork and refinished, set to last you another several years. New $300 shoes for only $90. Boom.

Plus, as you know, the ladies–they love their shoes, but don’t assume that they only care about high heels. I gave my Strands a test drive at a wedding a few weeks ago and definitely got a number of compliments from a few of them.

If you don’t have a gray suit yet, I encourage you to consider it for your next one. If you do, pair them with some good ol’ American-made brown dress shoes.

Give Allen Edmonds’ Strands a look-see.  You can check out the gray suit I have at Indochino.


Two readers have contacted me about their experience with Allen Edmonds shoes.

Chris (@speedmaster) had an impressive account of AE’s customer service, resulting in a new “customer for life.” Check out the story on his blog, Amateur Economist.

Also, Robert (@robert_the_red) sent over the picture below testifying to AE’s durability. He’s had these black wingtips since he was 14. They’re an amazing 20 years old, and look incredible!



Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page.

  • Jon

    Hey Andrew, I actually have the same question as Abe (comment right above posted on 6/12) but what I think he’s trying to say is, what polish did you use on the Strands to get the darker color pictured in this article? I agree with him that when seeing them in person, they are a bit lighter than the shade you have and I’d like to darken them to achieve your same look.


    • Paul

      +1. What kind of polish did you use on them to get that burnished look in the photos?

  • Ryan

    I’m going to wear this combination to a wedding at the end of the month. I’m not sure what color(s) shirt and tie I can wear with it. My girlfriend is wearing a yellow dress and wants me to match her somehow. Any suggestions?

  • Thomas

    What socks are those?

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  • Eric Schmidt

    Bought the Strands at your advice a few months ago, and have got a compliment on them every time I’ve worn them out! They’re always from the most stylish people in the crowd as well. Thanks as always for putting out such quality material! 

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  • Camacho

    Hello, what color are the Strands in this picture?  I don’t see any color in the AE website that matches the picture.  Are those the walnut, burnished, bourbon, chili burnished, or perhaps as other mentioned a specific polished was used to achieve the color.  Thanks in advance.

  • skpro

    Those strands are in walnut, and they get darker over time if you apply conditioner and polish. Gives a nice patina.

  • Dan Haneveer

    I love the colour of these and I want to go for the gray/brown combo for our wedding. I’m not sure about the Strands as a wedding shoe though and I’m wondering how similar the colour of either the 5th and Park Avenues is.

  • Miggy

    The allen edmonds in this article are nice.. Are those walnut calf strands?

    • Daniel

      Yes, they are walnut calf.

      Here are my favorites. Definitely need to add a pair of Strands.

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  • Mike

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’m not saying grey suit is wrong, I like both mid and light grey suits. What’s wrong is your image of it’s versatility. Grey suit is not acceptable to a lounge suit event. Such are weddings, baptisms and other Christian (or otherwise religious events) and all evening events that require a suit. Only acceptable suits are black, midnight blue (or dark navy) or very dark charcoal. Some say only black and midnight blue are acceptable.

    Of course the dress code for daytime weddings, especially in the summer might be informal and allow even odd jackets.

    Also, black suit is mostly proper to evening events and funerals. And navy looks more flattering on most people, especially on day events.

    • Andrew

      We’ll have to agree to disagree! I wear a light/mid gray suit to weddings all the time. For a place a black suit is required, its likely requiring something more like a tux.

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  • Steve Gordon

    Just so play the devil’s advocate, I’m going to say that “having the same shoes/watch since you were 14” is not the same thing as still regularly wearing those items. If those shoes or watch have been sitting in the closet for the last 9 years, only being brought out for 2 or 3 weddings (as they tend to for many of us) you can hardly call their age a testament to their durability.

    Saying this, I love the look of those AEs. I have a pair of cheap Italian ones that look almost exactly the same ($70 DSW), though the quality is obviously low grade. But, now that I’ve decided I like the style, I’ll definitely upgrade to something like these AEs when these ones die. I will say, despite their low price, based on 12 months of regular wear so far (1-2 times a week to work, not 1-2 weddings per lifetime), I’m still expecting another 2 years of regular wear left in them. Not bad for $70.

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